Confused jury cited in appeal to murder convictions

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The Court of Appeals of Indiana will be hearing oral arguments challenging a traffic stop and jury instructions that resulted in criminal convictions Tuesday at Wabash College as part of the Appeals on Wheels program.

Jamesley Paul, a co-defendant, is appealing his convictions stemming from a February 2020 robbery in Fort Wayne that left two people dead. Following a jury trial, Paul was found guilty of one count of murder, two counts of felony murder and one count of attempted robbery.

In Jamesley Paul v. State of Indiana, 21A-CR-1704, Paul argues the Allen Superior Court committed two reversible errors: admitting evidence resulting from an allegedly illegal traffic stop and instructing the jury so that they were confused as to the mens rea element required under a theory of accomplice liability.

Paul’s brief to the Court of Appeals notes the jury asked twice during deliberations about the phrase “acted in concert” and sought a clarification about the mens rea terms.

About three hours into its deliberations, the jury members sent out a note stating they were confused by the words “acting in concert” and the accomplice liability instruction, according to Paul’s brief. The court allowed the parties to engage in a second round of arguments pursuant to Indiana Trial Rule 28, after which the jury retired again.

However, about four hours later, the jury sent out a second note asking for clarification about the mens rea terms “knowingly or intentionally” and how they are relevant to the accomplice liability instruction. The trial court “advised them to re-read the instructions carefully.”

The jury was able to reach a verdict. Yet when the members reconvened to consider if a firearm enhancement charge had been proven, they sent another note expressing confusion with the words “acting in concert.”

Consequently, Paul asserts there can be no confidence in these verdicts.

“The jury was confused by the legal instruction to determine if the defendant ‘acted in concert,’” Paul argues in his brief. “The instruction that followed covered the statutory definition of aiding in an offense, the common law definition of accomplice liability and numerous points about intent. However, none of them defined ‘acting in concert’ or explained the mens rea that applied to ‘acting in concert.’”

In its brief, the state countered Paul waived his jury claim because he did not object to the trial court’s final instructions. Apart from that, jury instructions should be looked at as a whole and not in isolation, the state argued.

“A trial court will not be found to have abused its discretion unless the instructions as a whole misstate the law or mislead the jury,” the state’s brief asserts. “Here, the instructions properly instructed the jury about the statutory requirements (including mens rea) for murder, felony murder, and robbery, and the accomplice-liability instruction informed the jury about what would be necessary to find the defendant guilty under an accomplice theory of liability.”

The oral arguments are scheduled to begin at 11:15 a.m. Tuesday in Salter Hall in the Wabash College Fine Arts Center. No live webcast of the arguments will be provided but a video will become available about one week after the hearing.

Judges Patricia Riley, Melissa May and Elizabeth Tavitas are the scheduled panelists.

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